Clash of the Storytellers: a review of Disney’s “Saving Mr. Banks”
- Runtime: 125 minutes
- Rating: Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and some unsettling images
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When Walt Disney’s daughters begged him to make a movie of their favorite book, P.L. Travers’ “Mary Poppins,” he made them a promise—one that he didn’t realize would take 20 years to keep. In his quest to obtain the rights, Walt comes up against a curmudgeonly, uncompromising writer who has absolutely no intention of letting her beloved magical nanny get mauled by the Hollywood machine. But, as the books stop selling and money grows short, Travers reluctantly agrees to go to Los Angeles to hear Disney’s plans for the adaptation.
It is only when he reaches into his own childhood that Walt discovers the truth about the ghosts that haunt her, and together they set Mary Poppins free to ultimately make one of the most endearing films in cinematic history.
I don’t actually recall the first time I saw “Mary Poppins”. It must’ve been when I was much younger like most people and even then, most people only remember bits and pieces of it like the parts of songs and storylines. It wasn’t until I was older that I really appreciated the masterpiece that this movie really was. The fact of the matter is that my history, moreover our history, with this film from childhood to adulthood had one thing in common – it was memorable! But why?
“Mary Poppins” is just shy of being 50 years old now and generations, both young and old, have been happily under the command of a nanny that flew in one day. But how did that British nanny enter our hearts? Why did the Banks’ family remind us of the concept of being a family? Why did Burt the Chimney Sweep swept us off our feet with song and dance so easily? You’d be surprised that it came from the mind of a storyteller who had an extreme dislike for it all.
The last film from Disney for 2013 surrounds this storyteller whose “brainchildren” were George Banks, Burt, and Mary Poppins. For those who knew or even had the chance to look up P.L. Travers, you’d notice that the common thread in most of the information you’d come upon was that she was quite difficult to work with. So difficult, in fact, that if she had her way, the “Mary Poppins” we know today would have never been. But the question still remains – why?
Well, as the tagline for “Saving Mr. Banks” put it, where her book ended, the real story began and it all really began back in the 1940s a few years after “Mary Poppins” (the book) was first published. In a parallel to my childhood, the story of this particular nanny from the book got kids happy and parents entertained. Comparing this to when I was a kid, the kids from the 40s never knew the technicalities of what made them enjoy the story yet their parents couldn’t contain their joy either. It wasn’t until Walt Disney heard and started reading the story with his daughters that the magical catalyst in Mr. Disney’s brain fired and the thought of turning the book into a movie began.
That idea didn’t go as far as he’d hoped because Mrs. Travers owned the rights to Mary Poppins’ world and her blunt “no” responses to Walt had him chasing her asking the same question for 20 years to keep a promise he made to his daughters. It wasn’t until 1961 that Mrs. Travers finally took the invitation from Walt to come to California for two weeks to discuss what ideas they had for the film and if she’d finally let her beloved characters and worlds go. The stage was set and the things that occurred within those two weeks is where we meet the beginnings of why we’ve come to another question of why Mr. Banks needs saving.
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“Winds in the east, mist coming in. Like something is brewin’ about to begin. Can’t put my finger on what lies in store, but I fear what’s to happen all happened before.”
I think I must split my review here because the purpose of these first beginning paragraphs is where I’d like to turn our attention to. To sum those paragraphs all up, “Mary Poppins” the movie came from a book written by a storyteller. Even before the book, there was a story. If we really look deeper into it all, “Mary Poppins” the movie had its own backstory in the life of Walt Disney, but “Saving Mr. Banks” also had a backstory in the life of P.L. Travers. He wanted to keep a promise to his daughters and she wanted to keep her characters as she saw them. These were the backstories that made these movies, but they were also the lives of two serious storytellers: Walt Disney and P.L. Travers.
When you put two passionate storytellers together to try and tell each other’s stories, you get what happens in “Saving Mr. Banks”. The movie will tell an untold story (even unknown to the real Mary Poppins herself Julie Andrews) that I’m sure will surprise and delight you; perhaps even get you to read P.L. Travers’ original book or watch Walt Disney’s masterpiece for the first or the fifteenth time. Moreover, I hope you appreciate what it really took from P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson), Walt Disney (Tom Hanks), and his crew (Bradley Whitford, Jason Schwartzman, B.J. Novak) to make this story come to life. It wasn’t a clash that called for violence, but it was a clash of the minds and the chaos that ensues from finding the line between fantasy and reality. This dispute lasted over 20+ years and we’re fortunate that Walt Disney didn’t give up and Mrs. Travers gave in.
The results of that clash have brought us full circle in a sense. Both “Mary Poppins” and “Saving Mr. Banks” can both be enjoyed and will be remembered by the young and the old because they would have found out why George Banks needs saving. The story behind all of that is why you’ll find that this film might just be the “practically perfect” equal to a Disney classic.
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Our friends at the Walt Disney Studios also sent us an advance copy of the soundtrack as well because just like the music for “Mary Poppins” set the many tones for the film, the original soundtrack for “Saving Mr. Banks” does the same while revisiting the classics.
Thomas Newman (“Finding Nemo”) wrote the emotional underscore to the film and, together with the film’s musical supervisor Richard Sherman (who of course with his brother Robert, wrote all the original tunes to “Mary Poppins” like “Feed the Birds” and “Let’s Go Fly), put together music that seemed to be “practically perfect” for the on-screen action as well. Since the film recreates the songwriting sessions from the 1960s, you’ll hear the cast sing some of your favorite hits.
The soundtrack is also worth mentioning because the Deluxe Version, you’ll hear never-before-heard demos of the Sherman Brothers singing early versions of their now-famous songs from “Mary Poppins” including “The Pearly Song” aka “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”.
This review was written by Jordan Poblete.
All other reviews are made by Lance Cruzado, Walt Disney Studios writer for DisneyExaminer.com. All reviews are personal opinions and may not reflect the attitudes of other writers for DisneyExaminer.com unless stated otherwise.
These films have been screened prior to the release date for review purposes and therefore are viewed without charge by The Walt Disney Studios.